Simcoe County's Inaugural Theatre Festival

Powered by Theatre by the Bay and now onstage at Five Points Theatre, Barrie, Ontario

'Cowboy of Suburbia' and photo credit to Khaleel Ghandi

Joe Szekeres

On Saturday, June 18, I had the opportunity to see six original plays performed as part of the inaugural season of Simcoe County’s Theatre Festival powered by Theatre by the Bay.

This article will be more of a commentary on that day rather than a review because there was so much going on both onstage and behind the scenes I think is noteworthy.

I’m hoping this theatre festival will continue and can continue.

First off, I must acknowledge Iain Moggach, Artistic Director of Theatre by the Bay, for recognizing that a one-act theatre festival like this helps to fulfill the needs of the artists in Simcoe County. It runs to June 26 at Barrie’s Five Points Theatre. These plays are written, directed and performed by local artists plus I was also impressed with the number of community groups that provided all kinds of support to lead this moment. Moggach also thanked the Ontario Trillium Foundation whose support is the reason why the Festival was able to launch in the first place.

Moggach has been described as ‘whip-smart’ by many in the industry and I concur wholeheartedly with this description. As I watched, read and listened to as many people as I could last Saturday, I thought why aren’t there more regions in Ontario highlighting the theatre/performing artists who live in their respective areas? Port Hope has got the right thing going with the Capitol Theatre. Durham Region has the right thing going as well with Port Perry’s Theatre on the Ridge and the coming soon DREAMCO (Durham Region Entertainment and Music).

But more needs to be done.

I did let Iain know that I would mention if interested individuals would like more information to get in touch with him, he said that would be fine as he would also be interested in speaking about it: tbtb@rogers.com.
I’ve never attended shows at Barrie’s Five Points Theatre. If you live in this area and have never attended a show or production there, I strongly encourage you to check the theatre out. Additionally, Theatre by the Bay (celebrating its 20th anniversary this year) has a summer show planned for August. I also discovered through Iain that TALK IS FREE Theatre also performs out of Five Points. After seeing an extraordinary SWEENEY TODD in Toronto, I do want to check out what TIFT has planned for Five Points.

Now to the Theatre Festival:

To the playwrights, actors, and technical crews: I applaud you for taking the initiative to step forward in your creation and in sharing them with audiences. The theme of a sense of loss is most appropriate given this worldwide pandemic which continues has made all of us experience loss in some way.

I realize each of you is at a different point on the spectrum in your continued growth in the arts and that’s a good thing. Please remember when feedback is given to you, it is not meant to be anything negative. The word criticism is also thrown around here but, for the purpose of this article, I only want to give feedback as an audience member to you. As you continue to grow in the love of live performance, you will also know you have an audience who can appreciate so much what you are doing on stage.

‘Murth Island’ written by Alexandra Gaudet and directed by Keara Voo was billed as a fantasy that follows a group of children as they play make-believe on a southern Ontario Island. When imagination and reality start to collide and the games uncover dark secrets buried deep in the island’s roots. I had to do a quick bit of online research to see if such an island existed but couldn’t find anything. The brief plot synopsis intrigued me as I’ve always liked stories where fiction and reality come together to see the results; however, I found the pacing quite slow and dragging and I started to lose interest in the characters and the story. I sat in the second row and I still had some challenges hearing the dialogue. Hopefully, the actors in this production are starting to do vocal warmups before they go on.

‘Retrograde’ written by Jackson Doner and directed by Ashley Frederick involved three young and hip strangers who meet and connect with each other in the alley behind a semi-legal concert. Three unique different characters did collide with each other on so many levels. The set design just gave that sense of the back of a building. For the most part, pacing was good; however, like ‘Murth Island’ I sat in the same seat in the second row and I still had some challenges in hearing the dialogue clearly. For the most three minutes at the top of the show, I completely lost what actor Celio de Andrade Santos Jr. said. The ladies kept the production moving but there were moments when I lost their dialogue.

I then decided to change seats and move to the back of the auditorium.

I had seen the next production ‘I on the Prize’ by Trudee Romanek performed in Port Perry several months ago. This production was directed by Stephen Bainborough with Assistant Director Rachel Moore. A newcomer to town raises some eyebrows as well as suspicions with two women when he arrives midway through a BINGO game night at a small-town Ontario church. This production offered three solid performances by actors who clearly understood what their intentions and motivations were. What worked extremely well for me was the life lesson learned after the newcomer leaves the BINGO night that not everything always appears as it should be. Pacing good; could hear dialogue clearly from the back of the auditorium. I loved the simplicity of the set design. Two tables centre staged slightly angled and one table contains the regular BINGO paraphernalia.

‘Barrie, Europa’, a fast-paced and often witty comedy by Kristian Diesen and directed by Rochelle Reynolds evolves around the city of Barrie’s quest to become an ambassador human settlement on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. Absurdity abounds in asking the question ‘What makes a home?” A quirky story but sometimes gems can be found in the oddest of places. As an Oshawan (born, raised and now making my home except when I completed my undergraduate training as a teacher), I loved the gentle ribbing against my city in comparison to Barrie. Some clever comedy shtick is all set against the backdrop of a newscast.

‘B.O.D.Y.: A Letter to Myself’ created by Black Cat Theatre Co. and directed by Sabrina Merks explores how our trauma, mental health/illness, grief and thoughts live, dwell and maybe even get stuck within ourselves and our bodies. Framed as a letter to our younger selves and using real-life experiences from some of the actors involved, this production becomes a series of monologues and dialogues in exploration at times comic and funny while other times sad and dramatic. My initial reaction after the curtain call: alright another millennial production about how hard done by they tell themselves and everyone who will listen to them.

And suddenly it was as if the proverbial light switch went on in my brain.

Before these millennials can even begin to think about hard it is to pay the monthly mortgage, buying of groceries, price of gas, running a house, and finances, these millennials have to feel emotionally stable within themselves first and foremost.

BODY is a hard-hitting smack on the face to all of us to realize there is a mental health crisis here among some of our millennials and what can be done to help make them productive members.
Possible trigger warnings with this production. I wonder if this production can tour to places where youth gather who are experiencing issues of this nature.

‘The Cowgirl of Suburbia’ written by Megan Adam and directed by Stacey Schat deals with an issue that I believe still surrounds women’s issues today. Elena has it all: a good job, a reliable boyfriend and an inherited apartment. When confronted with a choice to experience the picture-perfect life in suburbia, her safety net of who she is and is meant to become is now at risk. What to do? Solid performances all round in this company with a clearly defined script and directed with a sense of purpose. Every inch of space was used on the stage to its fullest extent. ‘Cowgirl’ is one that I hope has more life of its own in the future.

The Simcoe County Theatre Festival runs to June 26. To purchase tickets and other information, visit theatrebythebay.com/festival.

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